Everybody’s Magic

country road

'Henry was hiking on country roads, with no particular route or destination'

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Secrets of the Ancients Revealed

Me, Fanny McElroy, age 12

Me, Fanny McElroy, age 12

(Continued from previous post…) So I went home and began babbling to Mama — my little brothers were off spending a few days with Aunt Belle and her monsters, excuse me, her dear little ones, Tigger and Anja, who are just freely expressing their unspoiled innocence when they yank on your hair and stomp on other kids’ toys if they’re not allowed to play with them, and Aunt Belle, who is dear and kind and rather vague and stares in an unfocused way at Tigger and Anja like she’s not quite sure who they are or how they got there, literally wrings her hands — and then I had to start babbling all over again when Daddy came in, but he wanted a shower first, which was probably good because it gave me a chance to gather my thoughts, and then, wearing clean Levi’s and a purple (which is not Daddy’s color, it makes him look sallow) “Kansas State University Athletic Department” T-shirt and holding a bottle of Harp beer, he sat in the blue Morris chair that is Only His (Daddy says that by now the chair is perfectly molded to his butt)…

Antimacassar

My grandmother crocheted antimacassars and placed them on the "headrest" parts of chairs to prevent men's hair oil, specifically "Macassar Oil," from soiling the chair

…and Mama sat beside him in her grandmother Dolly’s overstuffed rocking chair, which I don’t know why she likes it because the upholstery is cow-patty brown and scratchy and covered with doilies and, I swear, an antimacassar, unlike Mama, who was, of course, not covered with doilies but was, rather, aglow in a white sundress with huge red polka dots and who was, uncharacteristically, drinking a glass of Rhine wine mixed with pineapple juice and a dab of peach brandy (a delicious punch she made for the wedding shower she hosted for her piano student Clarissa Whitney earlier that day, otherwise Mama rarely drinks alcohol, but gosh that punch is crisp and refreshing, and yes, I was given permission to have a small sip)…

(I really was)

President Obama delivering the 2010 State of the Union address

President Obama delivering the 2010 State of the Union address

…and she and Daddy held hands and looked at me expectantly, as if I were about to deliver the State of the Union address, so I said, “My fellow Americans,” and then launched into the story of Henry the Hiker and told them, Mama and Daddy, I mean, that he, Henry, is the spit and image of Matthew McConaughey, and about my premonition, and Pablo’s, and the 2000 newspaper article, with the photo of Henry, Ben, and Portia, reporting Henry’s disappearance, and my suspicion, confirmed by Sister Alma Rose, that Henry was one of the Ancients, and then Sister Alma Rose’s cryptic comment, which she refused to elaborate on, that Henry had not come to see her, Sister Alma Rose, but rather to see me, Fanny McElroy, 12 years old last October 4.

“What would he want with me?” I asked in great perplexity. “Oh, I know! He’s come to give me tennis lessons!”

Helen Keller, 1904

Helen Keller, 1904

That was supposed to be a joke, but no one laughed. Mama and Daddy had exchanged “significant glances” a few times, but they didn’t seem surprised by my “shocking revelations.” Sometimes I almost think Mama and Sister Alma Rose have this mental-telepathy thing going, because I can tell Mama about something that happened at Sister Alma Rose’s and it’s like she already knows, though either of them would die before they would betray a confidence, so I’m thinking Vulcan Mind Meld or else a convergence of highly developed women’s intuition.

Pray without ceasing

Growing up, I had known about the Ancients, in the same way you know about stuff like the Italian Riviera, and plantain (the fruit, not the weed), and Helen Keller: It’s out there (except for Helen Keller), and you have a vague idea what it is, and someday maybe you’ll care, but for now it’s just a Frito in the Massive Smorgasbord of Knowledge. In our house, if you had an odd sock, it was, like, “Maybe the Ancients took the other one,” and I used to think of them as Gollum-like creatures who slithered around and stole your homework or fiddled with your carburetor so your truck wouldn’t start — sort of like poltergeists in the flesh.

Portofino, the Italian Riviera; photo, Stan Shebs

Portofino, the Italian Riviera; photo, Stan Shebs

But from time to time I would overhear somebody — Mama or Daddy, Sister Alma Rose or Cousin Dulcie — saying “the Ancients” in a conversation that was respectful in tone, even reverential. So I came to believe that the Ancients were real people and somehow near, and eventually I just knew without being told that Sister Alma Rose and Cousin Dulcie had come from the Ancients, and, of course, dear, misguided Portia, who is fey, which means

(a) slightly insane
(b) elfin: suggestive of an elf in strangeness and otherworldliness; “thunderbolts quivered with elfin flares of heat lightning”; “the fey quality was there, the ability to see the moon at midday” — John Mason Brown
wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

NOTHING AT ALL LIKE THE ANCIENTS: Gollum, as depicted in the most recent film version of The Lord of the Rings

Portia notwithstanding, knowing about the Ancients has always given me a warm, safe feeling, like these almost-angels are keeping an eye on things while we clueless more-mortal mortals lurch around trying to make sense of our lives and, ideally, help other people be more comfortable in their skin, but often not succeeding, as evidenced by the number of times (average 12.7 per day) that you hear someone whine, “But I was JUST trying to HELP.”

Sister Alma Rose seldom discusses the Ancients with me, but she has told me one thing I love: that they literally pray without ceasing — so I can be conversing with Sister Alma Rose, and I have her full attention, but at the same time, in another part of her brain, or maybe in her heart, or her gallbladder (an organ not possessed, according to Wikipedia, by lampreys), I don’t understand the physiology of it, she is praying for me, or praying that she’ll understand what I’m saying, et cetera, and she says that anyone can do this praying without ceasing, you don’t have to be a monk or an Old One, and it brings great peace and health and vigor, and, of course, love, and you never, ever worry. I’m working on that.

Lampreys. People EAT them. There are EYES looking out of those tentacles

Lampreys. People EAT them. There are EYES looking out of those tentacles. Photo: Drow Male

* * *

So when I finished telling Mama and Daddy about Henry, et cetera, Mama announced that she had decided that the time had come to tell me as much as she could about the Ancients, and my heart did a little cardiac happy dance and in my mind was the cover of some magazine like People with Mama’s picture and the teaser “SECRETS OF THE ANCIENTS REVEALED.”

Or not. In any case, I sat cross-legged on the ottoman and scooched it over near Mama and Daddy and waited for Mama to begin. What you will read below are Mama’s words, minus the “ums,” et cetera, though I think she must have been practicing because she hardly had to stop to scratch or sneeze, or lose her place and find it again, or anything….

The Legend of the Ancients

Little girl, all dressed up, playing in clover

'Get in touch with your inner child'

There are many tales about the Ancients, or the Old Ones [see “The Old Ones,” below], and most of them contain at least SOME truth. So shut down your skeptic’s brain and pay attention, with a willingness to be enchanted. “Get in touch with your inner child,” because this is a lovely story, and it is mostly true. I know, because I was there.

The Old Ones, in one form or another, exist in every culture, but this story is about the Old Ones in North America because the author has personal experience with them. It is said that they have been on this continent for at least three thousand years, but the author cannot verify that.

Mountains of the Ancients?

Mountains of the Ancients?

According to one legend, many centuries ago a group of mystically inclined Indians created a village at the top of the highest mountain they could find and dedicated themselves to Knowing God. Since they could not at the same time dedicate themselves to learning the warriors’ ways, they needed to make their homes in a safe, secluded place, and they wanted to be close to the sky.

Over the millenia, they learned the arts and sciences that were revealed to them, and, because God was in their hearts and they were compassionate, some of them left the mountain community and went down to live quietly among the valley people, teaching and healing. 

BlueRidgeMountainRoad-Istock

No one can find them unless they want to be found

A small group of Europeans — just a handful of families, the story goes — with much the same vision stumbled upon the Indian village in their search for a mountain refuge. (No one today seems to know how they got to North America from Europe.) The Europeans and the Indians compared notes, in a manner of speaking, and found that the Europeans knew a great deal that the Indians did not, and the Indians knew much that the Europeans did not, so that by combining their knowledge they became more powerful and more compassionate, and the two communities became one.

MotherDaughter

They are...

They are still there, in that original settlement. No one — no person, no army, no camera or satellite — can find them unless they want to be found. Small groups and individuals have been led there — escaped slaves and refugees as well as mystics, gifted healers, and gypsies.

They are a beautiful people, physically and spiritually. Many have golden brown skin, wavy chestnut hair, and whiskey-brown eyes, though it is not unusual to see a blue-eyed blond in the village.

Dad Lifting Young Son

...a beautiful people

The Ancients are fully human, though they use more than the five senses you and I were taught about; in fact, all their senses are highly developed, including intuition, the so-called sixth sense, as well as manifestation, healing, and tapping the collective unconscious. They can literally make quantum leaps, and time travel is old hat to them, though, by unanimous agreement, they do not visit the future.

None of this is “supernatural.” It is simply science, advanced knowledge, mastered by people who are in continuous communication with God. The author has been told that as long as the Ancients remain in their mountain home, they age very slowly. They are completely self-sufficient in providing shelter, clothing, herbal cures and other forms of healing, and food. Meditation is a way of life. Prayer comes naturally, easily… it is second nature. Negative stress is practically unknown.

Reincarnation — ‘enormous compassion’

But the mountaintop home of the Ancients is no Shangri-La. Like their “Ancient” brothers and sisters throughout the world, they live in harmony and bear good will toward all people. They dwell apart but journey into the larger world to bring peace and healing. As in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition,

…they are moved by enormous compassion to be
reborn again and again in order to help all
living creatures discover in themselves
complete freedom from pain and
suffering….  —Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
Blonde in Autumn Grain Field

The Ancients are exuberant by nature; Portia is no exception

The mission of the Ancients is to share their gentle wisdom with all humanity, so they come, singly or as families, to live among us, often but not always in rural areas. They are your neighbors, teachers, mechanics, clergy, hair stylists, carpenters, architects, and landscapers.

Some stay for a year, others for a hundred or more. The latter have, apparently, exceptional tolerance for pollution, artificial pesticides, questionable food additives, the blare of media, and the accelerated lifestyle; but there is no question that they age much faster “down here” than “up there,” in spite of the serenity they gain from habitual prayer and meditation, which are, however, powerful protection from mental and physical illness and deterioration.

The Ancients believe, in a nutshell, (a) that the attributes they have developed and strengthened over countless lifetimes can and must be transmitted “down here” to certain people — those who are intelligent, intuitive, and generous of spirit — and (b) that, beginning with these people, peace, love, and joy will spread over all the earth.

Dad carrying young daughter on shoulders

...reincarnated through a family "down here"

The author has been told that from time to time one of the ancients is reincarnated through a family “down here”; such children might or might not remember their past lives among the Ancients. These little ones are usually looked after and mentored by one or more of the Ancients dwelling nearby for just that purpose.

The author has only a vague idea of how all this works, since she was not privy to the secrets of reincarnation among the Ancients. She was told, however, that most “reincarnates,” at an early age, remember their past lives.

The light sensor

The Ancients claim that everyone has, on his or her head, at the crown, a sensory receptor for light. This receptor opens and closes, like an eye, but on the general population it is practically invisible. If there is no hair on the head to cover it and someone happens to notice it, that person thinks little of it, believing it to be a freckle or a small mole.

man-with-outstretched-arms

'Flooding the body with light'

But the Ancients have “exercised” this receptor for hundreds and hundreds of years, for the purpose of flooding the body with light for healing, and it has evolved into a larger circular “discoloration” about half an inch in diameter and very slightly raised. This, apparently, is the only outward difference between the Ancients and “ordinary” people.

Having my head examined

Mama stopped talking and took a sip of her drink.

Fanny McElroy at about age 4

Sister Alma Rose has always known that I was 'unusual'

“Dear One, we’ve been waiting for the right time to tell you all this,” Daddy said, taking my face gently between his hands, “though Sister Alma Rose has been urging us along for the past month or two. You’ve been a happy, well-adjusted child, you see, and there was no need, and a small part of us — a very small part — hoped that she was wrong. But you’ve been drawn more and more to Sister Alma Rose, who’s known since she first laid eyes on you as a newborn that you were… um… unusual.”

My heart was thumping wildly. I was about to be told something important, crossing an invisible line that would change my life, in a good way but also challenging… a quest, maybe, like Frodo’s with the One Ring, but not so dangerous and not, I devoutly hoped, involving a fiery-eyed wizard and the undead on winged chargers.

Brand-new puppies

All must leave the warmth, familiarity, and perceived safety of the womb

For a moment, more than anything, I wanted to stay on the not-knowing side of the line and go on as I always had, but that would be impossible, just as it is impossible for a baby to refuse to be born.

I didn’t want to hear it. I couldn’t wait to hear it. I needed to hear it, because it would lead me to my place in Creation, and nothing would bring more good to the world or more satisfaction to my spirit than doing what God had meant for me to do.

And then I knew. I lifted my hand and held it over my head, above the crown. The feeling of warmth was unmistakable. I slipped my fingers under my hair and I could feel the raised half-inch circle.

“I’m one of them, aren’t I?” I asked, my voice shaking, looking at Mama, then Daddy, for confirmation, and their eyes told me all. “I’m one of the Ancients.”

Young girl happily dancing

One of the Ancients...

Sidebar: The Old Ones—Other Legends

A great many older religions may believe that Old Ones are the beings that existed at the creation of the universe and everything in it, possibly considered to be minor gods or deities or… co-existing with gods…. In The Dark Tower series written by Stephen King, the Old Ones (also sometimes called Great Old Ones) were a highly advanced civilization, called the Imperium, that ruled the All-World many centuries, or possibly millennia ago…. In The Dark Is Rising sequence by the British author Susan Cooper, the Old Ones are agents of the Light, born as men and women, whose task is to prevent the Powers of the Dark from taking control of the world.

“They are immortal but are not Gods and most do not appear different than late middle age humans…. Their abilities include time-travel, shape-shifting, and ability to speak and understand various languages without having learned them….

Madeleine L'engle's Murry Family series

Madeleine L'Engle's Murry Family series

“In Madeleine L’Engle‘s… science fantasy books about the Murry family, [the]… Old Ones are similar to the ones in Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series—humans born with unusual mystical powers and dedicated to a never-ending struggle against the powers of darkness and evil. In both series, the Old Ones are associated with an Old Music.” —Wikipedia

* * *

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Hurry Up and Listen

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Sister Alma Rose Insists…

Omigosh. If it’s still December 3 when y’all read this, go immediately to the Morning Prayer at DivineOffice.org and listen to…

Hymn: Amazing Grace by Jane Chifley And Pat McGrath from their album Traditional Catholic Hymns – Lifeboat 14

Sister Alma Rose could dig up only one album by Lifeboat 14 — Who Will Adore Him? (2004) — upon which “Amazing Grace” could not be found.  She looked on several sites and finally discovered this description of the band at Eternity Music:

It’s finally here! Who Will Adore Him? is a CD by Lifeboat 14 containing a mixture of rock, folk, serenade and country. It’s taken a long time and is worth every moment of listening.

Music that will rock you. Music about Mary and the Blessed sacrament. Music that’s Australian. Music that’s Catholic.

You won’t find anything but faith on this CD.

Every Lifeboat 14 album has different artists performing…. The band was founded by Jane Chifley.

Sister Alma Rose sampled several cuts from the album, but none was as clean, elegant, and simply lovely as the unpretentious duet “Amazing Grace.”

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Catholic Things part 2

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Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

‘Pray Without Ceasing’

From ancient times the Church has had the custom of celebrating each day the liturgy of the hours. In this way the Church fulfills the Lord’s precept to pray without ceasing, at once offering its praise to God the Father and interceding for the salvation of the world. —Office of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship

Fanny McElroy

I, Fanny McElroy

When I, Fanny McElroy, first discovered The Brother Cadfael Mysteries, by Ellis Peters, I ripped through them like a scairt rabbit about to be et by a hawk, as Sister Alma Rose says her Daddy Pete says, or maybe it’s “a hawk after a scairt rabbit.” Anyway, I read them fast. And then there weren’t any more, because Ellis Peters died, so for the longest time I put off reading the final book, the twentieth, because I didn’t want to say goodbye to Brother Cadfael, a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey during the 12th century, but I found other books to read because I had become fascinated by all things medieval and all things Roman Catholic.

Compline — Coronation of the Virgin

Compline — Coronation of the Virgin

I loved Brother Cadfael’s irreverent way of being genuinely and truly religious, his painstaking cultivation of herbs for healing, his humor and his kindness. And the way he told the time not by the clock but by the Canonical Hours for Prayer — Matins, Lauds, Vespers, Compline, and so forth. Sister Alma Rose has specific times for prayer during the day, and if I am at her house when one of those times comes, we go into her chapel and pray together, and sometimes we pray out loud, sometimes we don’t, and she reads a psalm and we sing a hymn — harmonizing rather nicely, if I do say so — but the thing is, she always seems to know what she’s doing, I mean there aren’t any awkward “what should we do now?” moments. And now I know why.

The Liturgy of the Hours

Book of Hours, Paris, c. 1410

Book of Hours, Paris, c. 1410

One lazy summer afternoon I was sitting on the steps of Sister Alma Rose’s great green wraparound porch half-listening to Sister Alma Rose talking with Father Dooley and his sister Bernadette, who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and who is a willowy, fair-haired, freckled young woman who has, as she says, “quite enough money,” and her occupation is Doer of Good Deeds, and she would have become a nun, she told us, but she wanted to get married and have children, which she hasn’t, yet, but she’s only something like twenty-two, so she spends her time visiting the sick and does what she calls “healing prayer work,” and sometimes she takes in the homeless, temporarily, like mothers with children running from an abusive man, that sort of thing, not scary people or drug addicts.

Versicle: Poem on a Stick?

So I’m sitting there, drowsy with the sun and the hum of a summer afternoon, and I perk up when I hear Bernadette say “Compline,” so I get up from the step and go over to the green wicker table and sit in the one vacant green wicker chair and listen to Bernadette talking about the Liturgy of the Hours, which is also called the Divine Office, I have no idea why, but Catholics have funny names for everything, like antiphon and breviary and versicle, which is not “a poem on a stick,” as I suggested, and everyone laughed, which was very gratifying because when one thinks that one is being very clever, it’s good to know that others think so too.

The Hours of Jeanne D'Evreaux

The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreaux

I think that everyone was surprised by my fascination with such a dry subject as the Divine Office, which I had thought was something from long ago… well, which it is, but it is still practiced, or “celebrated,” as Father Dooley says, and he as a priest is obligated to “celebrate” the Liturgy of the Hours, but it is a joy to him, he says, and Bernadette also “celebrates” the Liturgy of the Hours, and Sister Alma Rose says that her daily prayer times are “based on” the Liturgy of the Hours. “Fanny McElroy,” she says, “y’all have been celebrating it with me for years,” and then she laughs and pours me a glass of Mr. Truman LaFollette’s incomparable lemonade.

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1410

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1410

Sister Alma Rose is not Catholic (she has referred to herself as “a Christian Jewish Buddhist,” probably offending adherents of all three religions, but she doesn’t mind — like J. Krishnamurti, she doesn’t mind much of anything, she says, and she is certainly the most serene person I have ever known, though in a crisis she becomes very exercised and shouts prayers to Heaven).

I am not a Catholic either, but there are many things I like about Catholicism, and here is one of them: For two thousand years or so, in spite of corruption and scandal and competition from other religions, and popes who had mistresses and children, and bishops who plotted royal assassinations, and so forth, the Catholic Church has inspired, comforted, counseled, educated, and healed. Irish monks preserved the knowledge from Roman and Greek antiquity by copying a huge lot of documents by hand (read How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, by Thomas Cahill).

Sister Alma Rose has told me about the vile perverted priests who prey on young boys, but I don’t think that those sick men’s transgressions erase all the good that the church has done. And I love the idea of Confession, and the Rosary, and having one’s own personal saint, and Mary the Mother of Jesus, with her woman’s wisdom and her tender heart, and, of course, the Liturgy of the Hours. And, basically, that Catholic worship has gone on uninterrupted for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Some facts about the Liturgy of the Hours

So I ask a thousand questions, and here is some of what I find out about the Divine Office:

It sprang from Jewish prayer practices (“Seven times a day I praise you,” it says in the Psalms)

It began rather simply, with reading or chanting psalms; reading from the Old Testament, the  Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and epistles; and canticles, which are basically hymns from the Bible but not usually from the psalms.

By the end of the fifth century, the Canonical Hours were — and this is a lot of praying and involves getting up in the middle of the night

  • Matins (during the night), sometimes referred to as Vigils or Nocturns, or in monastic usage the Night Office; it is now called the Office of Readings
  • Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at Dawn)
  • Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = 6 a.m.)
  • Terce (rhymes with “purse”) or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = 9 a.m.)
  • Sext (rhymes with “next”) or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = 12 noon)
  • None (rhymes with “John”?) or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = 3 p.m.)
  • Vespers or Evening Prayer (“at the lighting of the lamps”)
  • Compline (KOM-plin) or Night Prayer (before retiring)

Wow! Don’t you love it that the time for Vespers is “at the lighting of the lamps”?

The complete Liturgy of the Hours is contained in the Roman Breviary. Most of the pictures on this page are from personal breviaries made for wealthy people in the Middle Ages.

Très Riches Heures calendar page

Très Riches Heures calendar page

All hours begin with Ps. 69-70 v.2, “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me,” and then the doxology:  “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”

The Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer may consist of

  • opening versicle (a short verse said or sung by a priest or minister in public worship and followed by a response from the congregation) or (for morning prayer) the invitatory (Psalm 94)
  • a hymn, composed by the Church
  • two psalms, or parts of psalms with a scriptural canticle. At Morning Prayer, this consists of a psalm of praise, a canticle from the Old Testament, followed by another psalm. At Evening Prayer this consists of two psalms, or one psalm divided into two parts, and a scriptural canticle taken from the New Testament.
  • a short passage from scripture
  • a responsory (chant or anthem recited after a reading in a church service) typically a verse of scripture, but sometimes liturgical poetry
  • a canticle taken from the Gospel of Luke: the Canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus [Blessed be]) for morning prayer, and the Canticle of Mary (Magnificat: The “Song of Mary” from the Gospel of Luke, Magnificat anima mea Dominum = My soul doth magnify the Lord) for evening prayer

    Russian Orthodox icon, Zechariah

    Zechariah, Russian Orthodox icon

Nativity from an Antiphon

Nativity from an Antiphon

It looks complicated, doesn’t it? But I have to tell you, it is refreshing and renewing to drop everything at 3 p.m. or whatever because that is the time you have set aside for prayer. And if you’re not Catholic, you can develop your own structure for prayer and praise, as Sister Alma Rose has done, she created a sort of hybrid of the Divine Office, and Father Dooley says that’s fine with him, he encourages everyone to pray in the way that suits them best, as long as there’s no mutilation of poultry and stuff like that.

Well, you can buy the complete Liturgy of the Hours in four volumes for more money than I have in my piggy bank, which last time I counted was $97.13, I am saving for a school trip to walk the Appalachian Trail, but there are less expensive books, such as those that have only the Morning Prayer and the Evening Prayer.

There is much, much more to be told about the subject, but Bernadette had to leave to go back to Grand Rapids and her Good Works, which she does out of love and not to earn points toward Heaven or anything like that. So I will just tell you that I, Fanny, “celebrate” the Hours four times a day using the website DivineOffice.org, which has an audio version with beautiful music, and there are other websites with text versions. Sometimes I pray with Mama, and sometimes with Sister Alma Rose, and sometimes it’s just I, Fanny.

Even if you are not a Christian, you might enjoy this prayer discipline, which is principally made up of psalms anyway, though the references to Jesus Christ Our Savior might make you cringe, I don’t know. What I do know is that I need and enjoy discipline and structure in my prayer life, and for me, Fanny McElroy, the Divine Office is the beginning of that discipline and structure.

Chant; Troparion; hook-and-banner notation

Chant; Troparion; hook-and-banner notation

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Father Dooley's temporary church

Father Dooley's temporary church

Religious Differences

Sister Alma Rose is not a Roman Catholic, but she is telling Father Dooley and me that she used to want to be a nun “in the worst way.” (Ha ha.)

“Oh?” Father Dooley says interestedly, raising one eyebrow, which, I don’t know HOW he does that, but of course I don’t know how to whistle, either, though I can do cartwheels one-handed. “What changed your mind?”

I have made Father Dooley promise to always keep me informed of his whereabouts, if one of us moves out of Hilltop, so that when the Pope allows priests to get married I can get to his city on the next plane. Father Dooley's, not the Pope's

I have made Father Dooley promise to always keep me informed of his whereabouts, if one of us moves out of Hilltop, so that when the Pope allows priests to get married I can jet to his city on the next plane. Father Dooley's, not the Pope's

“The wardrobe,” Sister Alma Rose says, “because, really, can y’all picture what I’d look like in one of them outfits? A giant beetle, is what I’d look like.”

Father Dooley laughs and says that many nuns just wear regular street clothes these days, and Sister Alma Rose says that would take all the fun out of it. Like, why be a doctor if you’re not going to wear a white lab coat and a stethoscope?

Father Dooley is spending a lot of time sitting on Sister Alma Rose’s porch this fall because his church, Saints Peter and Paul, had a bad fire and no one can go into the building.

They are having church, or, whaddayacallit, Mass, and, I guess, Confession and Catechism and the Inquisition and the other stuff that Catholics do, in an empty warehouse that used to be Hilltop Elementary School when Mama and Daddy were kids.

But Father Dooley’s paper files and computer and desk, et cetera, all got burnt to a Frito, and he has this lackey priest-in-waiting who is taking care of that little administrative problem while he, Father Dooley, sits on Sister Alma Rose’s porch and drinks Mr. Truman LaFollette’s indescribable lemonade.

The Catechism Lesson, Jules-Alexis Muenier 1890

The Catechism Lesson, by Jules-Alexis Muenier 1890

But Father Dooley is not slacking off, oh, no, he is here on church business, because we are talking about Catholic things, two in particular: (1) the execution of heretics by means of setting fire to them, and (2) the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours), which, unlike Father Dooley’s office, is extant.

Transubstantiation is NOT “a way for commuters to get to work”

Lady Jane Grey (above) and Queen Mary each believed that the other's soul was damned. And they MEANT it! The Reformers had piled up a lot of grievances over the centuries during which the Roman Catholic Church had amassed power, money, and land. It was the rule rather than the exception for popes and cardinals to have mistresses, if not secret wives and children. Priests lined their pockets with "indulgences" — money from their Flocks for the wiping away of sins.

Lady Jane Grey (above, looking a bit peaked) and Queen Mary each believed that the other's soul was damned. And they MEANT it! The Reformers had piled up a lot of grievances over the centuries during which the Roman Catholic Church had amassed power, money, and land. It was the rule rather than the exception for popes and cardinals to have mistresses, if not secret wives and children. Priests lined their pockets with "indulgences" — money from their Flocks for the wiping away of sins.

Father Dooley and I have been debating the following question:

Why did Lady Jane Grey have to die?

And the short answer, we agree, is that Lady Jane, a Protestant, made quite a point of NOT believing in transubstantiation and a few other points of Roman Catholic doctrine at a time when a VERY Catholic queen, Mary I, was on the throne in England. (That’s “Mary the First,” not “Mary Eye.”)

Transubstantiation is the alleged changing of the bread and wine served at holy communion into the actual body and blood of Christ.

NOW: It’s not like Catholics believe that the bread turns into, like, skin and fingers and toes and the wine gets all thick and red and has little platelets swimming around in it. Father Dooley says that the substance of the “host” and the wine changes but not their their appearance or texture.

I, personally, do not care, and neither does Sister Alma Rose, who dislikes discussing doctrinal issues.

She says that we all believe in the same God, who created the universe as an expression of divine love, and that God knows and cares about us each individually, and that God makes his love known to us through grace… and if we can agree on that, why aren’t we having a big ecumenical party and celebrating instead of arguing about minor details?

A medieval Mass being celebrated by a bishop

A medieval Mass being celebrated by a bishop

Father Dooley says several things in response, which I will summarize:

  1. Everybody DOESN’T agree with that, what Sister Alma Rose says, and in fact some of it could be considered “doctrine.” (Sister Alma Rose snorts.)
  2. Our actions have consequences: Like, if you stick your hand in a pot of boiling water, your hand will burn.
  3. We are all screwing up (Father Dooley’s words) all the time, acting in unloving ways. Love is a miracle, a gift of grace, and cannot be deserved. If we always got what we deserved, we would be crackers.
  4. Jesus’ life and teachings, death, and resurrection are proof of a higher law, which is that God’s love is greater than the law of consequences; or, rather, that God, through Jesus, paid the piper so that we wouldn’t have to go around weighed down by guilt and anxiety. This only works if we admit we behaved badly (confession) and want very much not to keep behaving badly (repentance), and if we accept the sacrifice (communion) and are grateful for it. That is the freedom Jesus promised; that is the Good News.
  5. We are likely to take communion more to heart — to be blown away by the liberating acceptance of God’s sacrifice for our sakes — if we believe that the bread is Jesus’ body and the wine is his blood, than if we are just eating stale bread crumbs and drinking grape juice.
  6. This is not all just a matter of collecting chits for the Afterlife. Salvation is here and now, overcoming sickness and all manner of other here-and-now penalties for less-than-perfect behavior.

Well, I say to Father Dooley, this is all fine and good, but I still don’t think it’s worth having your head chopped off over. Transubstantiation is not even in the Bible, after all. Jesus said, at the Last Supper, “This is my body, broken for you,” but he was always speaking metaphorically, saying stuff like, “I am the vine and you are the branches,” et cetera.

The  Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci, 1498

The Last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci 1498

The Nine Days’ Queen

King Edward VI of England, William Scrots, c. 1550

King Edward VI of England, by William Scrots c. 1550

Lady Jane Grey was the Queen of England for nine days in 1553, after Edward VI and before Mary I, “Bloody Mary,” as she came to be called. (For more information, see “Historical Background,” below.)

Lady Jane did not want to be queen. She was only sixteen, and she was indeed a staunch Protestant, but a group of greedy grownups, including her own parents, made her marry this awful man, Lord Guilford Dudley, and then persuaded the ruling council to name her queen, and so queen she was, for nine days, until Mary Tudor swept down upon London with several thousand of the faithful, and, voila, Mary was queen and Jane was imprisoned in the Tower of London, convicted of high treason, and sentenced to death.

Mary and Jane were cousins, and Mary really did not want to execute Jane, knowing that Jane was made queen over her own objections. Mary told Jane she would let her off the hook if Jane would just convert to the True Faith, Roman Catholicism, and to tell you the truth, if I’d been Jane, I would have said, fine, okay, but I would have had my fingers crossed and then I would have gone back to my cozy life of studying Protestant doctrine and having my servants do my laundry and cook my meals. But Jane, a better woman than I, or a more stubborn one, refused.

A 15th-century representation of the Tower of London. Shown is the White Tower, begun by William the Conquerer in 1078. The White Tower still stands, but it is now part of a large complex of buildings that comprise "The Tower"

A 15th-century representation of the Tower of London. Shown is the White Tower, begun by William the Conquerer in 1078. The White Tower still stands, but it is now part of a large complex of buildings that comprise "The Tower"

Jane was mostly concerned with doctrinal issues. She could not accept the Roman Catholic belief in transubstantiation — plus, she had an illegal English translation of the Bible, and she was studying Greek and Hebrew so that she could read the original biblical texts rather than translations. The Catholic Church didn’t want lay persons reading the Bible at all, because if they read it than they would begin to interpret it.

Verdict: A sad waste of a young life

My debate with Father Dooley is no debate at all, as it turns out, because we pretty much agree about Lady Jane.

“Two things,” says Father Dooley, holding up two fingers so I won’t forget that he has two points to make.

“First, it’s hard for our modern ecumenical way of thinking to understand how radical it was to depart in any way from Catholic doctrine. For centuries, the Catholic church had been the ONLY Christian church, and it was not used to being disagreed with. In fact, when Henry VIII broke with the church, the Pope excommunicated him, and all of England with him. Heaven, according to the church, was not available to those who had been excommunicated.

Death by burning

Death by burning

“Second, even in the context of her time, and I believe she was beheaded in the 1550s, Lady Jane could have saved herself in good conscience. As brilliant a scholar as she was, she was also very young and very new to the heady freedom of Protestant thinking. Even her Protestant teachers warned her that she was excessively dogmatic. It’s very sad, really, especially since Elizabeth would be queen within a few years, and the policy of her reign was one of tolerance.”

Mary Tudor — Queen Mary I, or “Bloody Mary,” as she has become known — was merciful to her cousin Jane in having her beheaded. Before the end of Mary’s reign, almost three hundred “heretics” would be burned on street corners, in full view of the populace.

Eternal damnation

Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer and founder of Christian Science

Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer and founder of Christian Science

Mary seems to have sincerely believed that her reign of terror was saving souls from eternal damnation — not the souls of those being burned, it was too late for them — but the souls of those who looked on, who heard the screams and smelled the charred flesh.

Sister Alma Rose has no patience with preachers of hellfire and damnation. She believes that we grow spiritually over a succession of earthly incarnations. Thus she does not believe that ANY souls are consigned eternally to hell. She likes to quote Mary Baker Eddy on the subject:

Does Divine Love commit a fraud on humanity by making man inclined to sin, and then punishing him for it? …In common justice, we must admit that God will not punish man for doing what he created man capable of doing, and knew from the outset that man would do. God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil.”  —Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, 356:25 ff.

To be continued… Praying the Hours (the Divine Office)

The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

Historical Background — The Man Who Would Be Pope

Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England, was beheaded May 19, 1536, at the Tower of London

Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England, was beheaded May 19, 1536, at the Tower of London

I have been reading a lot of historical fiction about England (c. 1150 – 1600) lately, and I’ve read, like, five books in a row about Anne Boleyn

—because it’s so much fun to find out which authors think that

  • (a) Anne Boleyn was a world-class B-word (Daddy won’t let me say or spell the B-word that rhymes with witch, but then he also didn’t think that I should be reading about Anne Boleyn because if he had his way I’d still be reading Thomas the Tank Engine and playing with Barbies, which, excuse me, are way more obscene than Anne Boleyn), and (b) Henry VIII the longsuffering husband, as opposed to those authors who think that
  • (a) Anne Boleyn was June Cleaver in tights — no, wait, it was Henry who wore tights — and (b) Henry was a cruel tyrant.
Henry VIII, King of England, born 1491, reigned 1509-1547

Henry VIII, King of England, born 1491, reigned 1509-1547

The truth is that Henry was a spoiled baby, and spoiled babies are often tyrants. But because he was the King of England and not an ACTUAL baby, his tyrannical acts had lasting and tragic consequences, inasmuch as there was no one with the authority to send him to bed without his supper.

Henry established the Church of England, as separate from the Roman Catholic Church, with himself as the Supreme Head.

He’d been waiting six years for the Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn and make her queen and force her by intimidation and other methods that hardly ever work to have healthy baby boys.

Finally, tired of waiting for the Pope, he said, in effect, “I’ll just make up my OWN church and marry Anne and dissolve the wealthy monasteries and seize all their stuff.”

But he, Henry, did not mean for church doctrine or worship to change at all. He was not in sympathy with reformers such as Martin Luther. The English Reformation, however, got away from him. Once started, it couldn’t be stopped.

* * *

The Succession

Tudor_succession_diagram(2)

Jane Seymour, Queen Consort of England 1536-1537

Jane Seymour, Queen Consort of England 1536-1537

When Henry died, AT LONG LAST, his only legitimate son, Edward Tudor, became Edward VI, King of England.

Edward, whose mother was Jane Seymour (Henry’s third wife; she died a few weeks after giving birth), was only nine years old and he didn’t really run the country… a bunch of greedy grownups made all the political decisions.

But Edward was a committed Protestant and so while he was king the real Reformers in England were more active.

At age fifteen, after he had been king for only six years, Edward died of a lung disease (probably tuberculosis).

Then all hell broke loose.

Henry’s elder daughter Mary Tudor was next in line in the Succession (the list of who gets to be in charge of England when the current ruler dies; see diagram above), but everybody knew that she would restore Catholic rule and persecute Protestants, of whom there were growing numbers.

Mary Tudor, Queen of France, daughter of Henry VII of England, sister of Henry VIII, wife of Louis XII of France and then of Charles Brandon, 1st duke of Suffolk; Mary and Charles were the maternal grandparents of Lady Jane Grey

Mary Tudor, Queen of France, daughter of Henry VII of England, sister of Henry VIII, wife of Louis XII of France and then of Charles Brandon, 1st duke of Suffolk; Mary and Charles were the maternal grandparents of Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey was the granddaughter of Henry’s sister Mary, and she (Jane) had a legitimate claim to the throne if you took the position that Mary Tudor and Elizabeth, who was next on the list after Mary, were bastards (sorry, Daddy), which, technically, they were since Henry’s marriages to their mothers had been annulled.

As explained above, Lady Jane was basically manhandled to the throne by the evil John Dudley, First Duke of Northumberland, the father of Guilford Dudley, whom Jane was forced to marry. When the time of reckoning came, father and son were executed along with Lady Jane, though I doubt whether Queen Mary had many regrets about ridding the kingdom of those two.

Guilford’s brother Robert Dudley, First Earl of Leicester, was cut from different cloth. He was a man of intelligence and character (the rumors that he killed his first wife, Mary, have been judged by history to be false). He and Queen Elizabeth had been childhood friends, and it is generally believed that they had a lifelong love affair that was never consummated.

Eventually he married Lettice Knollys, a granddaughter of Lady Mary Boleyn, Anne’s sister.

I, Fanny

I, Fanny

Will Guilt Make You Good? (conclusion)

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Pembrokeshire, Wales, by Skellig2008 via Flickr

Pembrokeshire, Wales, by Skellig2008 via Flickr

Every Tiny Leaf

This, as I have said, is a true story, and, as I hope you will recall from Part 1 of this story, because I am NOT not going to explain THE ENTIRE EPISODE all over again, Sister Alma Rose and her friend Elizabeth Anna Stratton (who is 65 years old) and I went to the 7:30 a.m. service at the Presbyterian church last month because Elizabeth Anna is trying to decide whether she wants to come back to Hilltop and live in the wonderful house in the country that she inherited from her parents, who are deceased…

Elizabeth Anna's house outside of Hilltop

Elizabeth Anna's house outside of Hilltop

…and the minister giving the sermon, who I hope is just an interim minister whose term of service ended yesterday, because if she is not, the only people left at the Presbyterian church are going to be the hard-of-hearing, no disrespect intended, inasmuch as the Rev. Ms. O’Donnell is the kind of minister who preaches austerity out of the left side of her mouth while the right side is practicing conspicuous consumption at Bergdorf Goodman, otherwise maybe I could buy into the guilt trip she was laying on the…

…“complacent middle class,” which is pretty much all of Hilltop — …[while] families are being driven from their homes and living in filthy camps where children starve, and little boys are being abducted to fight in revolutions they don’t understand, and young men and women are smoking crack cocaine, and mothers are selling their daughters into prostitution in exchange for money to feed their addictions

and maybe I could drop everything and go take care of all that, and still arrive before the bell on Monday morning at Hilltop Elementary School, where I am in seventh grade — IF the Rev. Ms. O’Donnell had, herself, not been wearing six or seven hundred dollars on her back and driving a beautifully restored 1957 Thunderbird convertible (for which my own mama would sell ME [but only to the nicest people]), although I suppose it is possible, theoretically, in the Land of the Seriously Deluded, that the Rev. Ms. O’Donnell’s clothes and the car were borrowed and she actually returned them to the borrowee that very morning in exchange for her hairshirt and pack mule.

Elizabeth Anna's sickroom

Elizabeth Anna's sickroom

Well, we were not questioning the tragedies she spoke of, which are all too real, but after we left the church, Sister Alma Rose was mostly concerned about Elizabeth Anna, who in her youth had suffered what I’m told was called at that time a “nervous breakdown,” brought on by guilt starting when she was a little girl, and prolonged by anxiety that caused her to not speak for six months and to be unable to leave her parents’ house for five years, and for THAT story you can read Part 2, because I am done with the recap that I said I was not going to provide in the first place.

Letters to Vietnam

Elizabeth Anna had invited Sister Alma Rose and me to have lunch at the family home, which I had seen only from the outside, but I had prepared myself to be cool and sophisticated and to not gawk at the seriously fabulous interior, where the first thing we saw was a fountain, the kind you want to throw pennies into, which was covered and surrounded with one-inch ceramic tiles, dark blue and shiny, but I did not gawk, I only gaped, which I was not aware of until drool landed on the toes sticking out of my sandals. I estimate that seventy-five thousand oak trees and three hundred thousand ceramic-tile trees gave their lives for the floors and the wainscoting and the bathrooms, et cetera, in that house that was not so much IMPRESSIVE as it was simply BEAUTIFUL but in a COMFORTABLE way that doesn’t make it feel like a museum but rather like a cozy living space that happened to have cost 78 bazillion dollars to build.

Acacia leaves and thorns; photo by Stan Shebs

Acacia leaves and thorns; photo by Stan Shebs

During lunch, which I will not even begin to describe… well… no, I won’t even start…. During lunch, Elizabeth Anna told me that Sister Alma Rose had visited her many times while she was housebound, and I interrupted and said, “I’ll just BET she did,” and Sister Alma Rose gave me a Look but Elizabeth Anna just laughed, and went on to say that Sister Alma Rose had told her (which you will know if you know anything about Sister Alma Rose) that every tiny leaf in the universe is necessary and has a purpose, and the tiny leaf is not asked to be a rock or a stream but to do its necessary Leaf Job, and that it is the same with people, and that we must try to find where our Talents and Desires and the Needs of the Universe (which, Sister Alma Rose pointed out, is the same thing as the Will of God, though I am not sure what the antecedent of which is) coincide, so that some people are saxophone players and delight themselves and other people that way, and some people are called to serve the Indigenous People in the Amazon rainforest, and if that is their calling you could not pry them away with, um, whatever large things are out there that are used to pry people away from their calling.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

While Elizabeth Anna was recovering at home, she started writing letters to men and women serving in Vietnam, because the war was going on at that time, and she wrote thousands of letters, she lost count at two thousand, but I don’t mean to say that she wrote to thousands of different people, because many of the letters were sent in reply to those she received, and over and over again the writers told her how much her letters meant to them, that her letters were all they had to look forward to, and it was the knowledge that she was meeting a need AND doing something deeply satisfying that, more than anything else, made it possible for her to think that it was all right for her to be taking up space in the world, breathing air, eating paté, and so forth, and I am joking about the paté, but I was going to say, before I became enamored of my own rapierlike wit, that Elizabeth Anna received several proposals of marriage, all of which she regretfully (as she wrote to her correspondents) declined, because she did not plan ever to marry, and she never has.

A G.I. in Vietnam

A G.I. in Vietnam

Her parents worried that Elizabeth Anna might be plunged back into her depression when, as was inevitable, some of her correspondents were killed, but her Trained Psychiatric Nurse, wonderful Eleanor, told them that it was more likely that Elizabeth Anna would be happy that she was able to help them while they were living, which indeed turned out to be the case, and then Elizabeth Anna wrote letters to their families. Elizabeth Anna told us that sometimes she knew that someone had died, because that person had written regularly and then suddenly stopped, but more often the people whom Elizabeth Anna wrote to had asked a buddy to be sure to write to Elizabeth Anna if  “something should happen” because they wanted her to know that they loved her, in the way that you can love someone who has shared her life with you in letters and has let you share your life with her, and more often than not the “buddy” became Elizabeth Anna’s correspondent.

After the war, people continued to write to her, but she told us she was glad when the letters stopped, because it usually meant that the person had resumed “a meaningful life” back at home, though not always, so Elizabeth Anna always sort of checked in on those who stopped writing to make sure that they weren’t suffering from what we now know as PTSD.

Memorial Chapel, Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Memorial Chapel, Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Then, for about three years, Elizabeth Anna and Eleanor traveled, visiting the veterans who had become her pen pals who were having a rough time, making sure they were getting good care, which Elizabeth Anna very often paid for herself, partly as a tribute to Eleanor, who had helped her, Elizabeth Anna, so much during the dark night of her soul; and when Elizabeth Anna showed symptoms of making a veteran’s despair her own, she had Eleanor to remind her of what her “boundaries” were, because, as has been said, Elizabeth Anna would be of no use to anyone if she were once again sitting in her bedroom not speaking and eating nothing but Gerber vanilla baby pudding.

Back into the light

After Elizabeth Anna’s father died, she and her mother and Eleanor went to live in Wales, which was something Elizabeth Anna had always wanted to do, and for a while Elizabeth Anna didn’t do any Good Deeds, at least in a scheduled way, the three of them just traveled, touring castles and having picnics in the wonderfully picturesque Welsh countryside, and hiking, and taking a boat to Ireland, et cetera.

St. David's Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, Wales

St. David's Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, Wales

And Eleanor ended up marrying a Welsh gentleman, who was in business with sheep, I mean, of course, that his business had something to do with sheep, and then Elizabeth Anna’s mother died after an illness of just a few weeks, when she was “in hospital,” as they say in the U.K., and for the next five years Elizabeth Anna stayed in that village, just a five-minute walk from Eleanor, and lived in an old cottage and gardened in the summer, and did whatever it is that Welsh people who live in old cottages do to stay warm in the winter, but, summer and winter, Elizabeth Anna volunteered in that hospital, visiting and talking with people of all ages who were going to die. And if they were afraid, Elizabeth Anna told them that there was nothing to fear, because she, herself, had died and had been for a while in a black tunnel where she could not see anything but the dark, and that the Grace of God had pulled her back into the light, which had been there all along, and then she had never known such joy, and it had never left her.

And now I am afraid that Elizabeth Anna will go back to Wales, because she has Eleanor and many other friends there, but I told her while we were eating lunch that, even in Hilltop, home of the complacent middle class, there are people who are suffering the long, dark night of the soul, but that if she decided to go back anyway, could I live in her house?

Elizabeth Anna

Elizabeth Anna

* * *

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I, Fanny

I, Fanny

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Will Guilt Make You Good?

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Human nature
cannot be studied
in cities except
at a disadvantage —
a village is the place.
There you can
know your man
inside and out–
in a city you but
know his crust;
and his crust is
usually a lie
Mark Twain, 1883

I guess a
small-town
mayor is
sort of like a
community organizer
,”
except that
you have
actual
responsibilities

Sarah Palin, 2008

Your hometown
is where they
can’t figure out
how you did
as well as you
did
—Source unknown

What’s So Bad about Feeling Good? Part 1

My Hometown

From Canadian TV series MY HOMETOWN, Filmwest Associates

HILLTOP, U.S.A. — A lovely place. A peaceful place, as I have said. The fact that I am peeved at Eloise Mary Shea because her birthday-party invitation said to come in costume, and I went wrapped in alumninum foil, as a baked potato, you know, and no one else was in costume because she, Eloise Mary Shea…

…who, I happen to know, wears the same pair of underwear two days in a row, turning it wrong-side-out for the second day…

Eloise Mary Shea, third from left; I, Fanny, am taking the photograph

Eloise Mary Shea, third from left; I, Fanny, am taking the photograph

…had informed everyone personally that she’d changed her mind about costumes, but she “forgot” to tell me — anyway, I understand that my trifling I’ll-be-over-it-by-Thursday SNIT does, to some degree, send negative vibrations into the ether and thereby delays the dawning of the Age of Universal Peace and Love just that much more, but it doesn’t seem to have done much to the spiritual frequencies in Hilltop, because Hilltop is under a Peace Spell, like a soft blanket, which was probably doing its job of comforting and safe-keeping even during the silly Battle of the Barbers, which, after all, ended happily, with Mr. Henry now busier than bees on lilacs because, unlike Mr. Bill, who knew how to cut crew cuts, period, Mr. Henry’s not a one-haircut guy, plus Mr. Henry’s hands don’t shake so alarmingly that his customers are afraid he’s going to pierce an eardrum with his scissors, as they feared re Mr. Bill in the latter years.

Sedona at sunset; photo by Joseph Plotz

Sedona at sunset; photo by Joseph Plotz

‘Make love, not war’

I, Fanny

I, Fanny

Now, just because Hilltop is peaceful and somewhat out of the way, I would not want you to think that we are all self-delusional or backward, like those people residing in really isolated parts of Appalachia who misbelieve that the War Between the States is still a-ragin’. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: We do not marry our first cousins. Well, not any more. Not since Lettie and Bobby Lee Wallace and their six unbridled hellions — children, I meant to say — Jimmy Lee, Tommy Lee, Alice Lee, Maribel Lee, Robert E. Lee, and Curtis Lee. True story.

Earnest Fort House, Green County, Tennessee, 1780s; photo by Brian Stansberry

Appalachia: Earnest Fort House, Green County, Tennessee, 1780s; photo by Brian Stansberry

No. We are well informed, we are hip, and we are diverse.

The Vietnam War era, as recalled by Sister Alma Rose

According to Sister Alma Rose, in the 1960s and 1970s, when the young people of Hilltop went away to school (some to LaMesa State College, but as many to institutions such as Brown, William and Mary, Georgetown, Oberlin, and so forth), a number of them wandered off after graduation and forgot to call home to let their parents know they’d be late.

Did they prostrate themselves before their parents, kissing their feet and adoringly, gratefully, or even sneeringly saying, “Thank you, Mother and Father, for spending skillions of dollars to provide me with…

Healy Hall, Georgetown University; photo by Patrick Neil

Healy Hall, Georgetown University; photo by Patrick Neil

“(a) a fascist education devised to indoctrinate my cohort and me with propaganda about the history and government of the United States, which is an evil capitalist empire bent on world domination; or

“(b) a highly practical education that taught me to despise you and everything you stand for and through which I learned how to make pipe bombs and orate against capitalist materialism outside the White House, the United Nations, and the 1968 Democratic National Convention?”

NO,
THEY DID
NOT

Crim Dell Bridge, William & Mary

Crim Dell Bridge, William & Mary

If they wrote at all, they sent surly letters asking for rent money or travelers’ checks for a sojourn in Tibet, or perhaps Canada (who could blame them?). Eventually, many of them drifted back… sometimes contrite and in need of treatment for various addictions; sometimes pregnant or toting actual babies, who might be any of a variety of colors characteristic of humans (not green, like Kermit, though that would have been okay too).

Sister Alma Rose recalls that all the parents “killed the fatted calf” and welcomed their prodigals with open arms. She knows of only one instance in which the chastened young adults, their children, and any spouses or life partners who might have tagged along, were not forgiven, cherished, cared for, and put to work as soon as possible. The exception involved the sister of a boy who had been killed in Vietnam. The sister, Jeannette, who had changed her name to “Peace Feather,” and who, mystifyingly, wore a war bonnet and painted multicolored stripes across her face for all occasions, had been contemptuous of the Vietnam G.I.’s and had heaped abuse, at every opportunity, against the veterans. Even in her parents’ home, on their dime, she was unrepentant; and she was asked to leave, and nobody cared, except for possibly Peace Feather herself, though we hear that she has done well in Sedona, where she grooms cats and balances their chakras, but she still wears her war bonnet all the time, which is kind of sad, but, oh, well.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Return of the Prodigal Son

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Return of the Prodigal Son

Also in the late 1960s, all the kindly old ministers who patted you on the head and called you “Susie,” and who had baptized your grandparents, died, kind of in a clump. And the young ministers who took their places preached the Gospel of Social Justice. For these warriors against racism, ageism, classism, sexismhomophobiaxenophobia, speciesism, and whatever other phobias and –isms I’m forgetting…

…GUILT

was the weapon of choice (except in the case of Father Dooley, who was and still is a cupcake).

Astronaut John Bennett Harrington is an enrolled member of the Chickasaw nation

Astronaut John Bennett Herrington is an enrolled member of the Chickasaw nation

These clergymen (no women, yet, back then) were opposed to the war (like Sister Alma Rose); they supported racial and gender equality (like Sister Alma Rose). They wanted to Integrate Hilltop, I don’t know, import people in from Miami or something — until the new ministers looked around, says Sister Alma Rose, and saw that

all together, there were (and still are) more Asians, Indians (both kinds), black folks, brown folks (many being refugees from Central America), and combinations thereof, than there were and are white folks in Hilltop….

This “demographic,” says Sister Alma Rose, is unexpected in a town the size of Hilltop, and located where we are, and given the fact that there are no big companies headquartered here and luring folks with jobs. I, Fanny, think that our good fortune has something to do with The Ancients, but I always believe that The Ancients are involved when I can’t think of another explanation.

Crow warbonnet

Back to guilt. Sister Alma Rose does not believe in guilt. No, that’s not true at all. Guilt, she says, is “like sticking y’all’s foot in the fire. Oh, hell, that stuff’s HOT! Y’all pull your foot out, repair the damage as well as y’all can, and then let it heal. Y’all don’t poke and prod at it every ten minutes to see if it still hurts.”

Sister Alma Rose on guilt…
‘Guilt is a bad reason to do good’

…because it wastes so much energy. Guilt is uncomfortable, so most folks try to get rid of it, like they’d dig out a tick. How can y’all do the work of the Lord, or even empty the trash, if y’all are tuckered out from grappling with guilt?

Adultery

Adultery

Guilt trip, Type A

If y’all feel guilty because y’all did something wrong, and if y’all can fix it — like if y’all stole money, say — y’all can (1) pay it back with interest and (2) apologize. Maybe y’all won’t even have to (3) spend a few days in jail (well, unless you stole a WHOLE LOT of money; let’s just say you didn’t). (4) Resolve not to steal again, and (5) stick to your resolution. Then, by the grace of God, there’s no reason to feel guilty any more, is there?

Guilt trip, Type B

Now, if y’all feel guilty because y’all did something wrong and it can’t be undone — like a spot of adultery, say — then y’all should (1) quit, cold turkey; (2) resolve not to commit adultery again, and stick to your resolution. (3) As to whether y’all should confess your transgression to your spouse and ask for forgiveness, that’s between y’all and God. But (4) once y’all have established that y’all not only can refrain from adultery but can love and cherish your spouse, and live in mutual trust, then (5) there’s nothing to feel guilty about. (6) If guilt sticks to y’all anyway, unstick it off yourself and give it to God.

Parents: 'Where did we go wrong?'

Bad Lot: 'Where did we go wrong?'

Guilt trip, Type C

The hardest to get rid of is the kind of guilt that y’all do nothing to deserve in the first place — like if, in spite of y’all’s being the best parent y’all know how to be, one of y’all’s kids grows up to be a ne’er-do-well. Y’all will undoubtedly relive every moment of this kid’s childhood, and y’all will find mistakes because y’all are human, and y’all did not have Mary Poppins living at y’all’s house.

Y’all will have tried to fix the kid or paid lots of money for “professionals” to fix him, and then y’all tried to help him out and discovered that, omigosh, y’all were “enabling” him.

Y’all will have tried “tough love,” which is a breeding ground for parental guilt, and “tough love” won’t have done any good either, because Dad’s sticking to the program but Mom is slipping the kid Dutch apple pies, or worse…. Eventually the kid ends up in jail or disappears, or gets struck by lightning and goes to medical school and becomes a top proctologist. Who knows?

I know a nice married couple who raised four kids: two model daughters and a saintly son and a Bad Lot, addicted to cocaine, committing armed robbery, constantly pestering Mom and Dad for money, stealing from them. They moved across the country and didn’t offer a forwarding address to the Bad Lot. Sure, they felt guilty….

The Hague: Actors in a play about teenage angst

The Hague: Actors in a play about teenage angst

This kind of guilt is really sticky, and y’all might have to peel it off and give it over to God a whole slew of times, and rejoice in y’all’s new freedom, a whole slew of more times. The guilt tries to creep in through the back door, and it starts by whispering in y’all’s ear, “If only y’all had….” Well, y’all didn’t. In fact, y’all probably did better than y’all remember, but that’s beside the point. Just hand over to God this fresh batch of guilt, because it’s not like he has his hands full, or anything….

Sister Alma Rose believes that Freedom from Guilt is a gift of grace and is pretty much the whole point of the New Testament; it’s the Good News, the occasion for gratitude, the reason for joy, the excuse for a party; and it’s not just for Christians! Buddhists and people in other religious traditions (not that Buddhism is, strictly speaking, religious) know how to let the vast, intelligent universe redeem their guilt.

Take Judaism, for example. King David, or whoever authored Psalm 103, wrote this heartening, lyrical promise:

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgression from us (Ps. 103:12)

Russian icon of St. David, the Prophet and King, 18th century (Iconostasis of Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia)

The Gospel of Guilt, which most of Hilltop’s ministers in the 1960s and 1970s preached, is one of a bunch of reasons that Sister Alma Rose started worshiping in her own chapel, the one Daddy Pete built so long ago. At first it was just her and Mr. Truman LaFollette and a few neighbors, but now, on Sunday mornings, several dozen people might show up for worship at Hilltop Farm.

Not that Sister Alma Rose is sticking her head in the sand. She helps. No one has any idea, because she doesn’t advertise the good works she does.

“I do what I’m called to do,” she says, “what best uses my talents and gives me the greatest satisfaction. So will y’all someday.”

Guilt rides again

When Elizabeth Anna Stratton, Sister Alma Rose’s good friend since she, Elizabeth Anna, was a little girl, came back to Hilltop for a visit last month, and Elizabeth Anna asked Sister Alma Rose and me to go with her to the 7:30 a.m. Sunday service at the Presbyterian church, I thought, how bad can it be?

Child in  Darfur refugee camp, www.columbia.edu

Child in Darfur refugee camp, http://www.columbia.edu

Well, as Sister Alma Rose put it, “We got a us generous dose of the Gospel of Guilt,” to the point that I came out of that service feeling depressed and ashamed and ready to get on the next boat to Sudan or the next train to Chicago, where I’m sure, if I looked hard enough, I could find young people, and older people as well, using dangerous, addictive drugs, and I would say, “Stop that right now,” because, what do I know, I’m just a kid, and they would shoot me, or at least take my nice catalog clothes and my travelers’ checks, and it would be no more than I deserve. Because what right do I have, living in the bosom of a loving family, in a nice house with oak floors and central heating and a microwave, for God’s sake, eating plenty of wholesome food and probably throwing some of it away! and wearing nice clothes from the catalog when God knows there are rags aplenty, or I might consider a hairshirt — all this in a world where — according to the vituperative sermon given by the Reverend Ms. O’Donnell and directed at the “complacent middle class,” which is pretty much all of Hilltop —

The reality of drug addiction, www.outoftheherd.com

The reality of drug addiction, http://www.outoftheherd.com

…families are being driven from their homes and living in filthy camps where children starve, and little boys are being abducted to fight in revolutions they don’t understand, and young men and women are smoking crack cocaine, and mothers are selling their daughters into prostitution in exchange for money to feed their addictions, and I think that I have a right to want anything at all and to be happy in a world of suffering?

A word about the Reverend Ms.O’Donnell

This is a woman who, by all appearances, ingests quite a bit more than “plenty of wholesome food,” in fact, a surplus, one might infer, which she evidently carries with her, dromedary-style, in case of a sudden and tragic potato-chip shortage; and who, according to Elizabeth Anna, was wearing a chichi suit from Lord & Taylor… and who also, after the service and the Coffee Fellowship, hopped into her classic T-Bird convertible, which, and my mother doesn’t even like cars, Mama would cheerfully exchange her own children for.

1957 Thunderbird convertible; photo, nminow via Wikipedia

1957 Thunderbird convertible; photo, nminow via Wikipedia

So much, I thought, for self-denial.

To be continued…

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Prayer Works Wonders

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The Battle of the Barbers, conclusion

If you need to refresh your memory, please see “The Battle of the Barbers,” part 1 and part 2.

There is, as you know if you have been paying attention, a large meeting room in the library, and that is where half the town gathered on Sunday after church, it seems like, though there were maybe about two hundred people, really, Daddy says I tend to exaggerate so I am trying to see and describe things more accurately —

I, Fanny

I, Fanny

— what Daddy said, actually, is, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times, don’t exaggerate! —

… and we were gathered, as you will also recall, to resolve the matter of The Competing Barbers: Henry Hunter, who had set up The Other Barber Shop across the street from the barber shop of his father, Bill the Barber, whom I previously reported as being 150 years old, but I will amend that age estimate, in the interest of accuracy, and, having asked Mrs. Bill, I am forced to report that he is only a little more than half that age, 78, to be precise, though he looks much older, as I tactlessly exclaimed to Mrs. Bill…

Henry Hunter with a customer

Henry Hunter with a customer

… but she sweetly ignored my rudeness and told me that a combination of arthritis, workaholicism, lack of exercise, and a tendency to raid, several times a day, the soda and candy-bar machines he has in his barber shop, have all made him age prematurely, but she is sanguine — a word I learned recently, which means “optimistic and cheerful” — that if she can just get him to their villa on Corfu, all those problems will be solved in one fell swoop — a phrase that originated, we think, with Shakespeare, and that refers to the “fell” (savage, cruel; same root as felon) descent of a hunting bird.

The Revelation at the
Hilltop Library

Synopsis of previous episodes: [Mr. Bill was getting on in years and in any case, no matter what the customer asked for, Mr. Bill always gave him a crew cut.] So as soon as Henry Hunter’s barber shop opened, the customers came in droves, apparently believing, though they would soon discover that they were sadly mistaken, that Mr. Bill wouldn’t mind if his old customers didn’t patronize his shop as long as they were taking their unruly hair to be cut by Henry Hunter. This was doubly unfortunate in that Henry Hunter’s barber shop is right across the street from Mr. Bill’s. It is also a very delicate situation, this rivalry, I mean, because Henry Hunter is Mr. Bill’s only son.

Sister Alma Rose has heard about the entire misbegotten affair from Mrs. Bill, who is very worried about her husband because his heart is “hinky” and she’s afraid he will have a heart attack one of these days, that’s how angry he gets at Henry Hunter, his face turns about as red as Mrs. Bertie’s unbecoming lipstick. And of course she’s concerned about her son. She wonders whether Bill’s vicious campaign might actually drive Henry out of business. Secretly, Mrs. Bill wants Mr. Bill to retire so that they can go live in their villa on Corfu. Who knew?…

little_boy_with_crew_cut_istock

Little boy with crew cut

Several employers have asked the mayor to Do Something, because none of their employees is getting any work done, they are having noisy partisan arguments about Henry Hunter vs. Mr. Bill instead. Mayor Atticus Hines, unable to cool things off through his official status, has appealed to a higher authority: He has asked Sister Alma Rose to restore peace and quiet to Hilltop, one way or another.

Residents of Hilltop are nothing if not creatures of habit, and two of the strongest traditions are Sunday Dinner and Sunday Afternoon Football on Television, and Mr. Bill is the biggest Football on Television fan of them all, which is one of the reasons that Mrs. Bill is so desperate to get him to Corfu — not that Mrs. Bill doesn’t like professional football, in fact she adores football, she grew up in Wisconsin and she is a Cheesehead, big time, but watching football is just another sedentary thing that Mr. Bill does that makes Mrs. Bill fret. Mr. Bill eats his big Sunday dinner, then he sits down to watch the game, and then he takes a nap, and after that it’s nearly bedtime, but first — a snack! Probably another helping of dessert. (Mrs. Bill, to her credit, has tried Not Making Dessert, but if she doesn’t, then Mr. Bill goes to the corner store and buys one of those heavy, lard-laden fruit pies.)

Cheesehead hat, by Allen Wonder

Cheesehead hat, by Allen Wonder

Sister Alma Rose did not just fall off the turnip truck, and so it was no accident that she scheduled this meeting for 1 p.m. on Sunday, because another Hilltop Tradition is that everybody goes to church, Sister Alma Rose’s strategy being that everyone is already Out and About.

Prayer works wonders

So there we all were, the assembled semi-multitude, and of course the mayor had to reiterate what everybody already knew, to wit, why we were there and who the perpetrators were, et cetera, ad infinitum, and after the mayor’s fifteen-minute speech, Sister Alma Rose stepped up onto the podium, looked pointedly at Mr. Bill and his son, Henry Hunter, and then she said in her y’all-better-mind-me-or-else voice,

“Will y’all please join me in silent prayer? Let us pray.”

Now, there is an unwritten, unofficial time limit for silent prayer, after which feet start to shuffle and coughs become more frequent and people even whisper audibly to one another, and as the silent-prayer time in that library stretched from ten to fifteen to twenty minutes, which was my own personal time limit, I looked around the room and I could see that some folks were genuinely absorbed in silent prayer but others were looking anxiously at their wristwatches (or, in a few cases, pocket watches) or toward the rest rooms, and the sound of stomachs grumbling was audible, and I looked up at Sister Alma Rose, her large, brown hands folded tidily upon the lectern, and I could see that she was either oblivious or pretending to be oblivious to the restlessness in the room.

Pocket watch

Pocket watch

The silence, or the approximation thereof, crept on, and a few people had actually slipped out of the room — you could hear cars starting in the parking lot — until 1:45, and there was mutiny in the ambience, until Mrs. Bill cleared her throat, rather loudly, for Mrs. Bill, and heads shot up all over the room, as if there were a giant puppeteer up in the rafters yanking on strings, and the room was suddenly more nearly completely silent than it had ever been during “silent prayer.”

“Bill,” said Mrs. Bill in a low, clear voice — and here she looked apologetically at Henry Hunter — “it was I who set Henry up in  his barber shop.”

There was, of course, the collective gasp, and it occurred to me that the Packers were playing that afternoon and that the kickoff was at 2:00, which explained why Mrs. Bill had been among the most restless individuals in the room.

Henry Hunter looked down at the table and Mr. Bill, along with everyone else in the room, gaped at Mrs. Bill, who was searching among the spectators for Dr. Deirdre Barstow, who stood quickly, apparently in order to get Mrs. Bill off the hook, if only for a moment.

Beach in Acharavi village on the Greek island ...

Corfu; image via Wikipedia

“Mr. Bill,” said Dr. Deirdre Barstow, “I don’t think I’m violating any privacy laws by saying that I have suggested many times to you that it is time for you to retire, because you are ruining your health, and I don’t understand why you have been holding on to that villa in Corfu unless you intend to be an invalid by the time you get there. The sunshine will be salutary for your arthritis,” she went on, “and the Mediterranean diet for your heart, and you can stop working yourself to death and start sailing and hiking and all the other things you used to enjoy before you became a workaholic barber.

“It’s time for Henry to take over, Mr. Bill,” Dr. Deirdre Barstow concluded. “I didn’t suggest this particular strategy to your wife, of setting Henry up across the street, I mean, and creating this rift between the two of you, but I do know that both Mrs. Bill and Henry had your best interest at heart.”

* * *

And so it was that Henry Hunter moved into the house of Mr. and Mrs. Bill, who spent most of the year at their villa in Corfu, and on their visits home Mr. Bill looked tan and sleek and hardy while Mrs. Bill looked as if she had spent most of the winter trying to find a way to view Green Bay Packers football games, and it is rumored that Henry Hunter mailed her videotapes of the games, but as to that, I could not say for sure. As for Henry himself, he retained “The Other Barber Shop” and by the grace of God found a very able barber by the name of Bill, and leased Bill’s old barber shop to the new Bill.

“Do y’all see, Miss Fanny?” Sister Alma Rose said to me as we walked up the hill to Sister Alma Rose’s farmhouse after the meeting at the library. “God is good, and prayer works wonders.”

The Greek island of Strongili

The Greek island of Strongili

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Hair Wars II

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The Healing Power of Touch

The Healing Power of Touch

In harmony with GodWe are continually amazed and delighted that God will talk to us, that He loves us, that the guiding Intelligence of the universe really cares for our small concerns. His lavishness overwhelms us and his humility humbles us….

On the days when I am in harmony with God, who is love, all things both great and small seem to work together for my good. My work is done easily and with power and my decisions are quick and unerring…. But when I fall into annoyance and irritation, nothing “clicks.” I work slowly, make careless decisions, and waste time generally….

The healing touch of God through us — [If I am in harmony with God, I can] help people directly, face to face and often with my hands upon them…. It is a natural impulse to hold the fevered hand… to pat the fretful child…. In so doing, we convey the power of love one to another, not through the understanding of the mind but through the tenderness of the heart,… [which is] from everlasting to everlasting and in touching it we have touched immortality. Agnes Sanford, The Healing Light

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

The Battle of the Barbers, continued…

(Read “The Battle of the Barbers,” Part 1)

Here is a mystical story about the Ancients from Sister Alma Rose’s childhood.

The cast of characters is large for such a small story:

The person telling the story (the “I”) is, of course, Sister Alma Rose. Calista and Merrily and Lorelei are Sister Alma Rose’s little sisters, and Vincent and Colleen are the couple who lived in the big farmhouse, where Sister Alma Rose lives today, and helped take care of the children, the household, and the farm after Sister Alma Rose’s mama died; and Daddy Pete is… well, Daddy Pete is who he is….

Eastern garter snake

Eastern garter snake

‘They Have Much to Teach You’

When Colleen and Vincent and Daddy Pete tucked us in at bedtime, Calista was still cross. She turned her face sideways when Daddy Pete and Vincent tried to kiss her, and she pushed Colleen away when she sat down next to Calista on the bed.

“Calista,” said Colleen very seriously, “garter snakes are protected by the Ancients. Would you want one of the Ancients coming into your room at midnight to find Greenie and take him back outside where he belongs?”

Vincent looked startled. It wasn’t like Colleen to try to frighten children into obedience, and he opened his mouth to say something, but Daddy Pete put a hand on Vincent’s arm and shook his head.

“Pooh!” said Calista, who was five and didn’t believe in fairy tales. “The Ancients are just made up. Our mama said so.”

“Oh, no, Darling,” said Colleen. “The Ancients are all around us. They are kind and they would never harm you, but they would not allow you to keep Greenie in the house with you.”

“Colleen,” I asked drowsily, “have you ever seen one of the Ancients?”

“Why, I suppose I have,” she said, “though I might not have known it.”

“But aren’t they terribly old?”

“Very old indeed—hundreds and hundreds of years old—but some have been born into new bodies.

Some say the Ancients live in these mystical mountains

Some say the Ancients live in these mystical mountains

“All the Ancients used to live high in the mountains,” Colleen said, in her storytelling voice, “so high that they walked with God, and they rarely let themselves be seen by lowlanders. Some are still there, but not nearly as many as in my grandmother’s day.”

“Where did they go?” I asked breathlessly, at the same time Merrily asked, “Why did they leave?”

Colleen laughed at our eagerness. “Well, for one thing, with so many people in the world, it’s harder to stay hidden. That’s one reason, but there’s another, and it’s more important.

“The Ancients know things that no scholar or scientist could even imagine. They have developed their senses so that they can see and hear things that happen miles away. And they have discovered other senses, which all people possess but are not aware of. They can see angels. They can understand the language of growing plants and trees. They know how to heal body and mind. They can read patterns in the universe that tell them of things that happened long ago, and they have ways of knowing what is yet to be. Some of them can fly without wings and, I’ve been told, can move from place to place without going between. And in their wisdom, they use their abilities for good, never for evil.

“So God scattered the Ancients throughout this troubled world, to bring peace and healing. Some came down from the hills just as they were, but the oldest he caused to be born again, as babies. Have you never heard someone say of a new infant that she is an ‘old soul’?”

This man lives near Ouidah, Benin. We think he is one of the Ancients who came down from the hills

One of the Ancients who came down from the hills, this man lives near Ouidah, Benin

“How do you recognize them?” Calista asked, having forgotten that she was angry at Colleen for giving Greenie his freedom. “Do you know an Ancient when you see one?”

“There is a sign,” said Colleen, “but only the Ancients themselves know what it is. I can only guess—when I look into someone’s eyes and I can see to the end of the universe; or when they have a certain serenity and purity, or they are wise beyond their years; or when they seem to attract miracles; and most of all, when I feel completely safe and loved by someone the moment we meet—not like Vincent and I love each other, but more like a mama’s or daddy’s love—then I am almost certain I have been in the presence of one of the Ancients.”

We were all quiet for a moment, thinking of the people we knew and wondering…. Then Merrily, the skeptic, turned to Daddy Pete and said, “Daddy Pete, is this true, or is it just made up like ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’?”

Daddy Pete reached over and gently tugged a lock of Merrily’s hair. “Oh, it’s true, Little One. Of course, even ‘made-up’ stories, like the ones about King Arthur and the Holy Grail, and Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot, have sprung from true things. There is a great deal that happens in the world, and the part we know about is just a tiny dot. Never doubt the Ancients, girls. They have much to teach you, if you can find them.”

Source: Daddy Pete, by Mary Campbell

Queen Guinevere's Maying, by John Collier, 1900

Queen Guinevere's Maying*, by John Collier, 1900

Sister Alma Rose Tames the Barbers of Hilltop

I wanted to give this story sort of a dramatic title because it was, as it turned out, a rather dramatic event, and you have to know something about the Ancients to understand it, because Sister Alma Rose is one of them (the Ancients), I suspect, though when I ask her straight out, “Sister Alma Rose, are you one of the Ancients?” she only smiles and bakes bread, or something, she is always doing something useful, and even when she is relaxing on her wonderful porch, doing nothing, she is crocheting, which she has been doing for at least a hundred years, maybe a thousand, if she is one of the Ancients.

Mama and Daddy know, I think, but when I ask them, they just say, “Well, it’s certainly possible.”

A woman churning butter in a barrel churn, by W. H. Pyne, 1805

A woman churning butter in a barrel churn, by W. H. Pyne, 1805

Here is why I think she is one of the Ancients: In the stories she tells of her childhood, she is always churning butter or skimming the cream off fresh milk, or embroidering a sampler, or the like, and there is no mention of a car or a refrigerator, and Daddy Pete goes everywhere in a horse-drawn wagon.

But more than that, it is the way she is — not exactly magical, but just sort of charmed, if you see what I mean, in the way she knows things, in the way she is wise and untroubled, in the way she calms people who are in a state of panic because their husband is fooling around with the babysitter, for heaven’s sake, and when people are sick, she tucks them into bed in her lovely pink attic bedroom, which, Mama and I agree, is like being a bee in a poppy, and they always, always get well under Sister Alma Rose’s care.

Fanny Mendelssohn

Fanny Mendelssohn

And here is the real giveaway, I think: Mama and Daddy let me spend as much time as I want with Sister Alma Rose instead of making me babysit for my brothers, Johannes and Arcangelo, whom we call Angelo, so as you can see, we are all named after musicians, Mama’s favorite composers, although Daddy put his foot down when Mama proposed “Wolfgang” for Johannes, which I wish he had done (put his foot down) when Mama said she wanted to name me after Fanny Mendelssohn.

Sister Alma Rose can hold energy in her hands
through the power of the Holy Spirit, she says, and I have felt the warmth of it. She can heal with her hands, and she says that, by the grace of God, anyone can do what she does.

“I have been given a few gifts,” she says modestly, “and I thank God every day that I have useful work that I love to do and that I am able to do it. For instance, do y’all know anyone who makes better barley bread than mine?” she asks, her eyes twinkling. “Do ya’ll want me to teach you to make barley bread, Miss Fanny?”

Photo by Klaus Höpfner

Photo by Klaus Höpfner

“Well, yes, I do, actually,” I say.

“Life is so good,” she says with a look of wonder. “Sometimes I almost burst with gratitude, and I would burst, too, if I didn’t use the gifts God has given me. And then I would lose them.  Y’all remember that, Fanny McElroy, because y’all have been given much, and much will be expected of y’all in time.”

I sometimes think that I am supposed to be something like Sister Alma Rose’s apprentice, sort of, because she takes me almost everywhere she goes, and she says, “Y’all remember that” a lot, but I’m not sure I do remember what I’ve learned, though it’s quite a bit, I believe, and I ought to go make a list, but not now, because today, at the mayor’s special meeting, I expect that Sister Alma Rose is going to use her unusual gifts to heal the town of Hilltop and reconcile the barbers, Bill and his son Henry. I’m just not sure how….

To be continued…

Poppies, from Quiet Garden on Bing

Poppies, from Quiet Garden on Bing

* Queen Guinevere’s Maying

Maying means “celebrating May Day.” Traditional English May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen, and celebrations involving a Maypole. Much of this tradition derives from the pagan Anglo-Saxon customs held during “Þrimilci-mōnaþ” (the Old English name for the month of May meaning “Month of Three Milkings”).

May Day has been a traditional day of festivities throughout the centuries. With Christianity came agricultural feasts such as Plough Sunday (the first Sunday in January), Rogationtide, Harvest Festival, and May Day. It is most associated with towns and villages celebrating springtime fertility and revelry with village fetes and community gatherings.

Since May 1st is the Feast of St Philip & St James, they became the patron saints of workers. Seeding has been completed by this date and it was convenient to give farm labourers a day off. Perhaps the most significant of the traditions is the Maypole, around which traditional dancers circle with ribbons. —Wikipedia

Photo by Michael Maggs

Photo by Michael Maggs


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Hair Wars

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File:BattleofSluys.jpeg

The Hundred Years' War: Battle of Sluys from a manuscript of Froissart's Chronicles, Bruge, c.1470

[Edward III of England, who reigned 1327-1377]… was, in most ways, a conventional king, mainly interested in warfare….
He declared himself rightful heir to the French throne in 1338, starting what would be known as the Hundred Years’ War.
Wikipedia

14th century manuscript initial depicting Edwa...

14th century manuscript initial depicting Edward III of England (seated) and his son the Black Prince (kneeling). Image via Wikipedia

[Edward, the Black Prince] would fight for a brother knight or undertake the rescue of a degenerate king like Pedro [“the Cruel,” deposed king of Castile] even if it cost the lives of thousands of common men…. Thomas B. Costain, The Last Plantagenets

Peace begins with one person but spreads like warmed syrup. When I connect with my neighbors, they return it in kind. Ivory Harlow

Our most important task is to transform our consciousness so that violence is no longer an option for us in our personal lives, that understanding that a world of peace is possible only if we relate to each other as peaceful beings, one individual at a time. Deepak Chopra, “A New Age of Peace” (interview)

The Battle of the Barbers

Diner similar in style to Dixie's; photo by Jeff Boyce

Diner similar in style to Dixie's; photo by Jeff Boyce

There are no gangs in Hilltop. We have a police department, which is Clyde Peoples, and he spends most of his time at Dixie’s Main Street Diner, jawing with the retired farmers who drink coffee at the diner all morning and then go home to plague their wives in the afternoon. At least that is what Mr. Truman LaFollette says they do.

(I don’t know why Dixie calls her diner “Dixie’s Main Street Diner,” because it’s not like there’s a “Dixie’s Fourth Street Diner” or a “Dixie’s Sycamore Road Diner,” there’s only one Dixie’s and everybody knows it’s on Main Street, but maybe she just doesn’t like the alliteration of “Dixie’s Diner” or maybe she’s trying to make her diner sound important, which it already is, everybody goes there, for Pete’s sake.)

In Hilltop, gays and straights, Jews (seven) and Christians and Muslims (nine), North Africans, African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics, even Gypsies (Romany) (nine or ten; they come and go), all live in peace and harmony, and it’s not because the people in Hilltop are any more virtuous or noble than the people in Houston or Philadelphia. Although I do think that Hilltop’s being in such a lovely setting, with mountains in the distance and streams and the Turkey Hill River, and lush farmland and miniature forests, and Sister Alma Rose’s big old farmhouse overlooking it all, just makes people happy to be alive, if they stop to notice how beautiful it is.

Hilltop environs

Hilltop environs — the view from Sister Alma Rose's porch

Antique hot-water tap

Antique hot-water tap

Hilltop is also a prosperous town, and the ancient red-brick buildings on Main Street, with their transoms and their white-tile entryways and their wondrous bathrooms with the toilet tank high on the wall, and to flush you have to pull a chain, and some of the tanks are covered in oak. Where was I? Oh, the buildings in our little downtown are in beautiful condition, no loose bricks with the mortar gone, the old floors sanded and sealed and shined. But our town wouldn’t be thriving as it is if people were hateful and discontented, because, well, as my daddy says, angry people expend a lot of energy being angry and they don’t work as efficiently and they are sick more often, et cetera.

So you see, people have to get along in Hilltop. Maybe you are the coach of the soccer team that your auto mechanic’s daughter is on, or maybe the auto mechanic is also the director of the church choir you are in, or maybe you are a Scoutmaster, and the son of the vice president of the bank in charge of loans is in your troop. People don’t cheat each other or act snotty when you’re shopping in their store, because there is no anonymity. There’s no place to hide.

The Bridgebase basic bidding system is used co...

Internet bridge; image via Wikipedia

The closest we’ve come to having a war in Hilltop had to do with a recent scheduling conflict. What happened was, Mrs. Washington at the library arranged an Appreciation Luncheon at the Queen Anne Hotel for all the library volunteers and supporters, that is, people who gave money this year, and Mrs. Washington scheduled her luncheon to commence at the same time that Mrs. Bertie’s duplicate-bridge club meets every week, and there are eight ladies in Mrs. Bertie’s club and three of them are library volunteers. Mrs. Bertie was livid because she thinks that everybody in town ought to know when her duplicate-bridge club starts and ends and, if they can’t remember it, they need to mark it on their calendars, along with the names of the club members, to avoid planning any event that might conflict with Mrs. Bertie’s bridge club, which the ladies take turns hosting, and they always have those wonderful little chicken-salad sandwiches in triangles with the crust cut off, and three kinds of bread, including rye, and petit fours for dessert, and so forth.

I want to learn to play duplicate bridge so I can go to Mrs. Bertie’s club and eat petit fours.

Petit fours. Yum. Photo by Wolfgang Meinhart, Hamburg, via Wikipedia

Petit fours. Yum. Photo by Wolfgang Meinhart, Hamburg, via Wikipedia

So anyway, Mrs. Bertie tried to get practically everybody in town to boycott the library, but practically everybody in town adores dear Mrs. Washington, who somehow, incredible as it may seem, was not even aware that Mrs. Bertie had a duplicate-bridge club, but then Janie French from the library called Mrs. Bertie to tell her that the copy of The Other Queen: A Novel, by Philippa Gregory, which Mrs. Bertie was on the waiting list for, was available, and Sister Alma Rose heard that Mrs. Bertie didn’t even refresh her lipstick, which is fire-engine red and unbecoming to Mrs. Bertie, at her age… she just got in the car and drove to the library, lipstick-deficient but absolutely delighted to get her book earlier than expected, and that was the end of the war.

The Other Barber Shop

Even more recently than Mrs. Bertie’s totally unjustified snit, however, Hilltop has found itself divided, against its will, over a conflict so ludicrous that I am almost ashamed to relate it to you, and you probably won’t believe me anyway.

Just a few days ago, a man who is called Henry Hunter opened a barber shop, and above the door is a very large, very conspicuous sign that stretches the entire width of the shop, and the sign says, “The Other Barber Shop” in huge letters. For at least 150 years there has been only one barber shop in Hilltop, and it has always been owned and operated by Mr. Bill, who is himself at least 150 years old.

At Large album cover

Image via Wikipedia

Now, to tell you the truth, customers have been leaving Mr. Bill in a slow trickle for the past year or so, because, though everyone wants to be loyal to Mr. Bill, his eyesight isn’t what it used to be, nor are his hands as steady as they once were, plus he has cut everybody’s hair the same way since about 1958, so if you want to look like a member of the Kingston Trio, Mr. Bill is your guy. He just does crew cuts, you see.

Mr. Bill’s customers have been quietly defecting, finding in La Mesa a veritable plethora of barbers who will cut their hair the way they want it and who won’t poke them in the eye with scissors accidentally.

A traditional red and blue striped pole locate...

Image via Wikipedia

So as soon as Henry Hunter’s barber shop opened, the customers came in droves, apparently believing, though they would soon discover that they were sadly mistaken, that Mr. Bill wouldn’t mind if his old customers didn’t patronize his shop as long as they were taking their unruly hair to be cut by Henry Hunter. This was doubly unfortunate in that Henry Hunter’s barber shop is right across the street from Mr. Bill’s. It is also a very delicate situation, this rivalry, I mean, because Henry Hunter is Mr. Bill’s only son.

Sister Alma Rose has heard about the entire misbegotten affair from Mrs. Bill, who is very worried about her husband because his heart is “hinky” and she’s afraid he will have a heart attack one of these days, that’s how angry he gets at Henry Hunter, his face turns about as red as Mrs. Bertie’s unbecoming lipstick. And of course she’s concerned about her son. She wonders whether Bill’s vicious campaign might actually drive Henry out of business. Secretly, Mrs. Bill wants Mr. Bill to retire so that they can go live in their villa on Corfu. Who knew?

Corfu, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea

Corfu, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea

Apparently, when Mr. Bill paid his son’s tuition for barber school in La Mesa, he assumed that when Henry graduated he’d come back to Hilltop and work as a sort of apprentice to him, Mr. Bill. But Henry did not want to work for his dad for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the awkwardness of being an “apprentice,” the second-string backup barber, for a man who cuts hair in only crew cuts, and even the crew cuts aren’t looking so crisp these days.

Carry some means

Image by nssf04 via Flickr

Mr. Bill, who has nine or ten loyal customers and nothing at all to lose, except the respect of his son and his wife and at least half of the residents of Hilltop, has begun a vitriolic campaign against his own son. He actually registered to run for the vacant seat on the city council for the sole reason of creating some kind of ordinance that would make his son’s business illegal. Mr. Henry Hunter also plans to run for that seat to keep his dad from getting elected and possibly having a heart attack, although if he had been concerned about his father’s health, he should have known better than to make the in-your-face kind of decision to open a barber shop where Mr. Bill would see it every time he looked out the window.

Sympathy for Mr. Bill is strong, as you might imagine. But Henry has begun working his way through the telephone book, with the objective of calling everyone in town and ingratiating himself and offering them free haircuts. Mr. Bill reacted by adopting the same tactic. The thing is, once people are in their shops, Henry Hunter and Mr. Bill are asking them to sign loyalty pledges. And the town is in an uproar, although the men have never looked so well groomed.

Several employers have asked the mayor to Do Something, because none of their employees is getting any work done, they are having noisy partisan arguments about Henry Hunter vs. Mr. Bill instead. Mayor Atticus Hines, unable to cool things off through his official status, has appealed to a higher authority: He has asked Sister Alma Rose to restore peace and quiet to Hilltop, one way or another.

Peace begins with one person’s outpouring of love

Second Floor, Northwest Gallery. Mural of Peac...

Mural of Peace, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. Image via Wikipedia

Now, I know what Sister Alma Rose would like to do:  She would like to teach the two barbers — and everyone else who has aligned with one side and is angry with the other side — about peace, as she has been teaching me.

Peace, I am learning, begins with one person’s outpouring of love. Peace is not a bunch of unsmiling men in uncomfortable suits meeting in The Hague and playing tit for tat with nuclear weapons, truce conditions, and ultimately the lives of men and women all over the world. As Deepak Chopra says (see full quote above),

…a world of peace is possible only if we relate to each other as peaceful beings, one individual at a time

The International Court of Justice—"The Peace Palace"—The Hague, The Netherlands

The International Court of Justice—"The Peace Palace"—The Hague, The Netherlands

The Law of Love

Sister Alma Rose gave me a wonderful little book, which I have read over and over. It was written in 1947 by a lady called Agnes Sanford, the daughter of  Presbyterian missionaries and the wife of an Episcopal priest; and the book is The Healing Light, and here is what Mrs. Sanford has to say about love, and it is so beautiful and true that I have memorized it and say it to myself every morning:

The flow of energy that we call the law of love is the rhythm for which our beings were created, the thought-vibration in which we live and move and have our being.

And then she says, a few pages later,

We become perfected in love by [practicing love]…. The method is so simple that any child can learn it. It is merely to connect in spirit with the love of God, send that love to the other person,  and see him recreated in goodness and joy and peace.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Much research has shown that people respond dramatically to others’ perceptions and expectations of them, so that if we can honestly see someone who seems mean and ornery as not mean and ornery but rather as God created her — full of goodness and joy and peace — then she will fulfill that expectation.

To be continued…




A new age is being born. The day has come when love-power, at the command of ministers and surveyors and children and everyone,  is sufficient to change hearts… in the world about them.

This is the beginning of a new order. It is the dawning of a new day!

Eckhart Tolle, 2005? NOPE! Agnes Sanford, 1947, The Healing Light


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The Secret of the Equanimity of Sister Alma Rose

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The view from Mt. Snowdon, at 3,650 feet the highest mountain in Wales

The view from Mt. Snowdon, at 3,650 feet the highest mountain in Wales

The Fall of Wales and the Meaning of Courage

Omigosh! I have just finished reading a book called The Reckoning, which is by this brilliant author who is called Sharon Kay Penman, who writes historical fiction about Great Britain, and The Reckoning is the third and last book in her series on the Welsh princes…

Chirk Castle (Welsh: Castell y Waun) is a located at Chirk, Wrexham, Wales

Chirk Castle (Welsh: Castell y Waun) at Chirk, Wrexham, Wales, built in 1295 as part of a chain of castles across north Wales, used by King Richard I of England to subjugate the Welsh people and protect the English border

…who were more like kings, really, brave and charismatic Welshmen of the thirteenth century who tried to keep Wales from being absorbed into England, and the readers of these books are ALL OVER that, because the Welsh, with a few treasonous exceptions, are the good guys, who loved their wild, craggy homeland, who had their own language (Cymraeg or y Gymraeg), customs, and legal system — although, however, if the the shoe had been on the other foot and the Welsh had conquered England, we would all be speaking Cymraeg and having to use words such as Abergwyngregyn and possibly Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch,

Powis Castle, originally built c. 1200 as a fo...

Powys Castle, built c. 1200 as a fortress for the princes of Powys, a region of medieval Wales; image via Wikipedia

which is a Welsh town whose name means “the church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio’s of the red cave” (astonishingly, there are about five hundred thousand Welsh speakers in Wales), but I digress, I was about to say that there are some four hundred castles in Wales, and it’s no wonder, because in the wars conducted over the sovereignty of Wales, both the English and the Welsh thought nothing of burning a castle to the ground and building a new one on the site, as if you could just slap one together, using stuff that’s lying around the house, and expect it to protect you, your loved ones, your squires, your villeins, your cotters, et cetera, when the enemy gets out the battering ram or sends flaming arrows into the bailey….

Aber Falls, Wales

Aber Falls, Wales

Back to Abergwyngregyn (Aber for short, thank all the saints and angels), which was one of the most secure castles (being remote and surrounded by forests and mountains) held by Llewellyn the Great, who adored his English wife, Joanna, a bastard daughter of King John of England, and they are all of course in the first book, which is Here Be Dragons, while the second book, called Falls the Shadow, is mostly about the French–English nobleman Simon de Montfort and how he led English nobles and even commoners, wow! in a rebellion against the inept and clumsy ruler King Henry III, who was the brother of Simon de Montfort’s wife, Nell, who was totally gone over her husband (Nell was, not Henry III, who loathed de Montford as he would loathe seeping pustulant warts all over his body, only a thousand times more), and Simon was just as gone over Nell, which, that being the case, partly accounts for the astronomical number of children they had, about whom we learn much more in The Reckoning, for example, that Simon and Nell’s daughter, Ellen, marries the Welsh prince Llewellyn the Last (he was, of course, not called that during his lifetime), and they were very happy together once Ellen got out of captivity, having been abducted by pirates and delivered up to King Edward, her first cousin, for a princely sum, and I forgot to say that Nell’s aunt was Llewellyn the Great’s wife, Joanna, and they, Nell and Joanna, were very close friends and knew all of each other’s secrets, plus they were smart and brave and competent and sometimes accompanied their husbands on dangerous missions, et cetera.

[General view, Aberdovey, Wales] (LOC)

Aberdovey, Wales; image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Pablo is reading the Princes of Wales books too, but he doesn’t read as fast as I do, or, actually, to be perfectly honest, he looks up the pronunciations of the Welsh words, and that, of course, slows him down considerably, so he is just finishing Falls the Shadow.

In all these books, people are dropping like flies in battles and skirmishes, as if life weren’t difficult ENOUGH in the Middle Ages there being no penicillin or central heating or proper bathrooms or reliable transportation — without having to go to WAR, which entailed all manner of unpleasantness, such as sleeping on the ground, risking being run through with a sword or starving to death in a siege, but, no matter:
once you were a king, or the equivalent, you always had to be (a) getting ready to fight a war, (b) fighting a war, or (c) cleaning up after a war, and, if there were absolutely no pretext for going to war near home, for example, nobody had borrowed your lawnmower or your chain saw and forgot to return it, you (d) went off on a pope-sanctioned Crusade to kill the “infidels” in the Holy Land.

Yes, I am making a point, which is:

16th-century illustration of Edward I presiding over Parliament. The scene shows Alexander III of Scotland and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd of Wales on either side of Edward, a meeting that never actually occurred; image via Wikipedia

One of the people in one of the books (I of course will not say who, because I don’t want to spoil your fun) is executed for high treason in the grisly manner described below:

Until reformed under the Treason Act 1814,[1] the full punishment for the crime of treason was to be hanged, drawn and quartered in that the condemned prisoner would be:

  1. Dragged on a hurdle (a wooden frame) to the place of execution. This is one possible meaning of drawn.[2]
  2. Hanged by the neck for a short time or until almost dead (hanged).
  3. Disembowelled and emasculated and the genitalia and entrails burned before the condemned’s eyes (this is another meaning of drawn—see the reference to the Oxford English Dictionary below)[3][4]
  4. The body divided into four parts, then beheaded (quartered).

Typically, the resulting five parts (i.e. the four quarters of the body and the head) were gibbeted (put on public display) in different parts of the city, town, or, in famous cases, in the country, to deter would-be traitors who had not seen the execution. After 1814, the convict would be hanged until dead and the mutilation would be performed post-mortem. Gibbeting was later abolished in England in 1843, while drawing and quartering was abolished in 1870.Wikipedia

Beaumaris Castle in the mist

Beaumaris, another of King Richard's fortresses; image by Today is a good day via Flickr

My blood ran cold. I was undone by (a) the unspeakable suffering of the condemned, and (b) the blackness of the human heart that could ordain such a punishment — in this case, that of  King Edward I (Longshanks), who was a revered general in battle… who genuinely loved his beautiful Spanish wife… who could feel pity and sympathy for friends and for strangers… and who could sentence a man to be hanged, drawn, and quartered without batting an eye. In fact, King Edward’s guilt is all the greater because it was he who first conceived of this unspeakable method of torture.

Reincarnation in art

Reincarnation in Hindu art; image via Wikipedia

Intestinal fortitude

Pablo and I talked about it, and we had the same thought: to test Sister Alma Rose’s vaunted courage yet again. Sister Alma Rose has said that she is never afraid and she never worries, and it is true that she is the most self-possessed and serene individual I have ever known, but Pablo and I don’t believe that she is NEVER, EVER, EVER afraid or worried, or that she could remain unafraid and unworried in every circumstance, so we are always trying to think of situations in which anyone who wasn’t brain-dead would be terrified.

“Sister Alma Rose,” we’ll say, “would you be afraid if you were about to be lowered into a vat of boiling oil?”

“Of course not,” she’ll reply, not even looking up from the cut flowers she is arranging, or whatever. “I would be too busy praying.”

A mitred Adhémar de Monteil carrying the Holy ...

A mitred Adhémar de Monteil carrying the Holy Lance in one of the battles of the First Crusade; image via Wikipedia

Pablo and I know, you see, that Sister Alma Rose has absolutely no fear of dying. She believes in reincarnation and she is certain that at the moment of death she will be born, literally, as a brand-new baby, and she says that she is rather excited about getting to be a child again, though she is not in any hurry.

But Pablo and I keep trying to find a chink in her armor. “Sister Alma Rose,” we’ll say, “would you be afraid if some thug broke into your house and you were taking care of your backyard-neighbor’s beautiful little Welsh baby, Ggwynwynnedd, and that thug grabbed the baby and held a knife at her throat?”

“No, silly children,” she’ll reply. “I would be supremely pissed off, and I would tear the thug limb from limb and feed his body parts to wild boars.”

Pablo and I look at each other; we have never heard Sister Alma Rose use language that is even the slightest bit indelicate. Then we look at Sister Alma Rose and we see that she is smirking!

Cow pucky

We were pretty sure what she’d say when we told her about the hanging, drawing, and quartering of he-who-must-not-be-named, and asked her whether she would be afraid if she were facing that punishment, imminently.

“I know something about that,” she said, looking rather grim. “There are people who will tell y’all that King Edward was a good king,* according to the standards of his time. Cow pucky! In conquering Wales, he tried to destroy a civilization. He wanted to break their spirit, and he almost succeeded.”

File:Hommage of Edward I to Philippe le Bel.jpg

Homage of Edward I (kneeling) to Philip IV (seated). As Duke of Aquitaine, Edward was a vassal of the French king. Image via Wikipedia

Sister Alma Rose had put on her schoolteacher face, which meant we were going to get a lecture about fear and worry, or about King Edward I, we were not sureShe motioned for to us to sit down, which we did, in the grass-green wicker chairs on her grass-green wraparound porch. She sat too, in her own special chair, which was bigger and stouter than ours because Sister Alma Rose is bigger and stouter than we are. We felt very cozy and safe on the porch, because rain had started to batter the earth with a vengeance, but there wasn’t much wind so we stayed nice and dry.

“God wants his children to live every moment of their lives,” she began, “and when y’all are afraid, y’all are not really living. The great philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti once told an audience the secret of his serenity: ‘I don’t mind anything,’ he said.”

“You’re making that up!” I interrupted.

“I beg y’all’s pardon?” said Sister Alma Rose coolly.

Oops. “…That there is actually someone in the world whose name is ‘Jiddu Krishnamurti’,” I finished lamely.

“There isn’t,” Sister Alma Rose said dryly, “but there used to be. And people named Fanny shouldn’t throw stones.”

Henry III of England, father of Edward I (Longshanks); the word "Edward" at the top of the painting was the artist's mistake; image via Wikipedia

Sister Alma Rose went on to say that the smartest way to endure pain is to not struggle against it. She made quite a point of this, lest Pablo’s and my minds be wandering.

“People who have practiced meditation for years and years know how to bring their pain gently into their meditation, affirming that they are not their pain, and they can step back from it, you see.”

The joy on the other side

“When something threatens y’all, Miss Fanny, Mr. Pablo, the first thing y’all must do is pray, asking to be shown the way around the threat or seeking the courage to go through it, if you must. For y’all’s fellow who was about to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, there was no way around. If he was a praying man, he surely asked God to help him through it. If he was a soldier, he probably wasn’t afraid of dying.

“Y’all have to look at the other side, beyond the pain. If it attacks, don’t struggle; and don’t take y’all’s eyes off the prize.”

Baby boom

“Here’s something for y’all to think on: For every person who is alive now and every person who has ever lived, there is a mother who endured the pain of childbirth — well, except, possibly, for those modern mothers who had epidural anesthesia — but setting them aside for the moment, it’s not unusual for mamas to be in labor for an entire day, even two days, and it is said that there is no pain more severe… and in the past, and even today in certain parts of the world, when a woman goes into labor there’s a very good chance that she, or the baby, or both will not survive. In the millions of years of human history, it’s been only recently that if the baby was, say, in the breech position, the mama could safely have a Caesarean section. Our ancestors  just had to hope that the midwife could reach into the birth canal and turn the baby, and wouldn’t that be a walk in the park for the poor mama.

“And do y’all know what? Women keep having babies! They’re ecstatic when they find out they’re pregnant! They have parties! And all because they’re looking past the pain to the joy on the other side.”

You would think, wouldn’t you, that once would be enough, although Mama has had three babies, and she says that the first one is the hardest and after that they get easier to pop out.

Uh-oh! Sister Alma Rose is looking very grave, as serious as I’ve ever seen her.

“For all of us, eventually, what we’ll see on the other side of pain is death, but only as a doorway to a new and better life. If y’all understand that, then y’all will never be afraid of dying. ‘Y’all shall know the truth, and the truth shall set y’all free.’ Amen.”

Extra blueberriesfield_of_wildflowers_istock

The sermon was over. I felt like applauding, but instead I said, “Mama says everybody should plant a garden and work in it themselves and that way they’ll just soak up life all the time.”

And then Sister Alma Rose said that reminded her that she had almost two pounds of fresh blueberries in the icebox [that’s what Sister Alma Rose calls the refrigerator sometimes] and she thought she’d make some blueberry cobbler but it would be better with vanilla ice cream, so, since it had quit raining, why didn’t Pablo and I walk into town and go to Sandy’s Better Ice Cream and buy an entire gallon, so we did, and Sandy took our money and handed us the gallon of ice cream without a bag, so I said, “Sandy, could we please have a bag to carry it in?” and Sandy said no, we couldn’t, because he was out of bags, so Pablo had to carry the exceedingly cold and heavy carton of ice cream all the way back to Sister Alma Rose’s house, but it was worth it, he said later, because the blueberry cobbler was just out of the oven and nice and warm, which is how it tastes best, especially with ice cream, and there was something about eating ice cream on fresh blueberry cobbler, still warm and fragrant from the oven, with Pablo and Sister Alma Rose and Mr. Truman LaFollette, that chased away any worries I might have been harboring about being disemboweled, with strangers watching and everything, and then I noticed that my slice of blueberry cobbler had about twice as many blueberries as everyone else’s, and Sister Alma Rose winked at me, and I tried to wink back, but I haven’t quite mastered winking, so I’m going to work on it as soon as I get home.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

* Edward was considered an able, even an ideal king by his contemporaries.[204] Though not loved by his subjects, he was feared and respected.[205] Particularly as a soldier did he meet contemporary expectations of kingship, sharing in the chivalric ideals of the age.[206] In religious observance he also fulfilled the expectations of his age, attending chapel regularly and giving alms generously.[7]

* * *

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